"I am a completely indoors person. I can't actually remember the last time I was in a natural setting outside of the city." This occurred to me in 2017 as more of a note of interest, rather than a thought of alarm. At the time I was living in downtown Chicago, working in a senior-level corporate role at an international consulting company working 60+ hour weeks (standard), and traveling frequently (weekly, cross country). At times, I would think "how lovely would it be to book a weekend away somewhere there are more trees - a forest somewhere perhaps."
Now when I think back to that day, it fills me with shock, that this thought did not disturb me; disgust, that this was actually the case; and absolute gratitude that life circumstances changed such that I was able to drastically change my reality.
First one and then two babies, 21 months apart. With each pregnancy I gained 70 pounds and struggled with postpartum anxiety and depression. In 2019 following the birth of our second child, I read this quote:
Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
- Gary Snyder
Around the same time, I came across an Instagram account, 1000 Hours Outside (@1000hoursoutside), which advocates a challenge for families to spend 1000 hours outside in a calendar year. Being that "once a consultant, always a consultant," I loved the idea of something beneficial for my children that I could measure, as well as safely prioritize during times of global pandemic.
This, combined with me looking for ways to support my mental health, led to a dramatic increase in time spent outside – 907 hours to be precise in our first year. What I noticed was drastic and immediate. Besides my body starting to feel better from increasing level of physical fitness, I noticed a drastic increase in connection and my ability to focus on my kids while outside. The minute we started heading down the street, I felt compelled to put my phone away. “Do you hear that bird?” I would ask. “I wonder if that is a robin?” “Did you see that tail in the water?” “I think it was a muskrat!”
Suddenly, I felt more alive. It was as if my brain, which frequently while indoors, sought out the comfort and escape of social media, was suddenly attuned to thousands of new sights and sounds – and I felt excitement for the first time in a long time.
The effects on my children were similar. “Did you hear that mom?” “That’s a red-winged blackbird!” Along with our excitement, our book collection and knowledge grew as we researched local birds, native plants, and stories of outdoor adventures. “Let’s go for a night walk!” my 4-year-old frequently started asking after reading Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. And instead of a stock response of why we couldn’t do that, my response turned into, “Get your warm jacket – can you see the moon?”
Early in 2022 fate intervened again when a friend and mentor of mine suggested I sign up for a Forest Therapy Guide certification course run by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. It took about 10 minutes of looking through the website before I signed up for the next session.
Learning about and practicing Forest Therapy has deepened my connection to nature in many ways. As a former Registered Nurse, this science-based practice embodies the holistic, nature-based way of living our family seeks to enjoy. It has also given me tools to use with my kids to not only deepen their nature connection, but to also enhance their capacity for mindfulness. “Can you hear the water?” I will ask while sitting at the edge of the river. “I wonder how it would feel to be a bird soaring way up high like that hawk?” And, silence, as we just “be” at the riverside with no agenda, no pressure of time, and no desire to move anywhere quickly. The old me would have been itching to get moving – any pause in the mission of walking a nuisance and something to be dealt with quickly rather than savoured and enjoyed.
Everything on this site is based on a philosophy that living in close relationship with the natural world creates a reciprocal relationship that benefits both equally and is key to finding both personal and global balance in the tumultuous age we live in. It is my hope that it proves helpful whether through the sharing of personal experience, or through the practical application of Forest Therapy principles and experiences.
Please reach out if you are interested in joining me on a walk as an individual, or as a family, or with topics that you would like to discuss. I look forward to connecting and growing as a community in reciprocal and restorative nature connection benefiting our generation and the next!
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